The dispersion of the Jews began early; though, early and late, their attachment to Judea has always been the same. Like the Highlanders of Switzerland and Scotland, they seem to have combined a tendency to foreign settlements with the most passionate love of their native "land. The first scattering of the Jews was compulsory, and began with the Assyrian exile, when, about the time of the building of Rome, natives of Galilee and Samaria were carried away by the Eastern monarchs; and this was followed by the Babylonian exile, when the tribes of Judah and Benjamin were removed at different epochs, - when Daniel was brought to Babylon, and Ezekiel to the river Chebar. That this earliest dispersion was not without influential results may be inferred from these facts; - that, about the time of the battles of Salamis and Marathon, a Jew was the minister, another Jew the cupbearer, and a Jewess the consort, of a Persian monarch. That they enjoyed many privileges in this foreign country, and that their condition was not always oppressive, may be gathered from this, - that when Cyrus gave them permission to return, the majority remained in their new home, in preference to their native land. Thus that great Jewish colony began in Babylonia, the existence of which may be traced in Apostolic times, (See 1Peter 5:13) and which retained its influence long after in the Talmudical schools. These Hebrew settlements may be followed through various parts of the continental East, to the borders of the Caspian, and even to China. We however are more concerned with the coasts and islands of Western Asia. Jews had settled in Syria and Phoenicia before the time of Alexander the Great. But in treating of this subject, the great stress is to be laid on the policy of Seleucus, who. in founding Antioch, raised them to the same political position with the other citizens. One of his successors on the throne, Antiochus the Great, established two thousand Jewish families in Lydia and Phrygia. Prom hence they would spread into Pamphylia and Galatia, and along the western coasts from Ephesus to Troas. And the ordinary channels of communication, in conjunction with that tendency to trade which already began to characterize this wonderful people, would easily bring them to the islands, such as Cyprus and Rhodes.
Their oldest settlement in Africa was that which took place after the murder of the Babylonian governor of Judea, and which is connected with the name of the prophet Jeremiah. (See 2Kings 25:22-26, Jeremiah 43, 44) But, as in the case of Antioch, our chief attention is called to the great metropolis of the period of the Greek kings. The Jewish quarter of Alexandria is well known in history; and the colony of Hellenistic Jews in Lower Egypt is of greater importance than that of their Aramaic brethren in Babylonia. Alexander himself brought Jews and Samaritans to his famous city; the first Ptolemy brought many more; and many betook themselves hither of their free will, that they might escape from the incessant troubles which disturbed the peace of their fatherland. Nor was their influence confined to Egypt, but they became known on one side in Ethiopia, the country of Queen Candace, (Acts 8:27) and spread on the other in great numbers to the "parts of Libya about Cyrene."
The subject of the proselytes is sufficiently important to demand a separate notice. Under this term we include at present all who were attracted in various degrees of intensity towards Judaism, - from those who by circumcision had obtained full access to all the privileges of the temple-worship, to those who only professed a general respect for the Mosaic religion, and attended as hearers in the synagogues. Many proselytes were attached to the Jewish communities wherever they were dispersed. Even in their own country and its vicinity, the number, both in early and later times, was not inconsiderable. The Queen of Sheba, in the Old Testament; Candace, Queen of Ethiopia, in the New; and King Izates, with his mother Helena, mentioned by Josephus, are only royal representatives of a large class. During the time of the Maccabees, some alien tribes were forcibly incorporated with the Jews. This was the case with the Ituraeans, and probably with the Moabites, and, above all, with the Edomites, with whose name that of the Herodian family is historically connected.
How far Judaism extended among the vague collection of tribes called Arabians, we can only conjecture from the curious history of the Homerites, and from the actions of such chieftains as Aretas (2Corinthians 11:32). But as we travel towards the West and North, into countries better known, we find no lack of evidence of the moral effect of the synagogues, with their worship of JEHOVAH, and their prophecies of the Messiah. "Nicolas of Antioch" (Acts 6:5) is only one of that "vast multitude of Greeks" who, according to Josephus, were attracted in that city to the Jewish doctrine and ritual. In Damascus, we are even told by the same authority that the great majority of the women were proselytes; a fact which receives a remarkable illustration from what happened to Paul at Iconium (Acts 3:50). But all further details may be postponed till we follow Paul himself into the synagogues, where he so often addressed a mingled audience of "Jews of the dispersion" and "devout" strangers.